Recently, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen signed a long-term contract extension that might be worth $51.5 million over the next six seasons, or $65 million over the next seven. This seems an excellent sign for the Pirates, though a more excellent sign would be a few other players worth that kind of contract. And they don't have any.
Still, we'll always find a naysayer when a player gets a big new deal, and today's naysayer is Jon Heyman:
My contract expert rates this as "a fair deal for both sides,'' though he did note that McCutchen hit .216 in the second half last season and has only one 20-homer season (also last year). It's a very similar deal to those given to two other young star outfielders, Justin Upton and Jay Bruce, and I'd rate McCutchen third in that group, with Upton first and Bruce second. But a still a strong third.
All indications are that McCutchen is just an absolutely terrific kid (he even made a special trip over to say hello to the Pirates beat writers). But there is a danger if a team is paying for persona. There is a reason personality is sometimes cited as a consolation compliment.
Of course, for this deal to work he's going to have to do more than be pleasant to the fans and great in the community; he's going to have to perform on the field. McCutchen wound up hitting only .259 last year with 126 strikeouts, but he has posted consistent OPS marks in his career -- .836, .814 and then .820 last year. He's a very good player who's not yet great. The key is, he is only 25.
Pirates people talked about the type of player they hope he becomes. The reality is, he isn't a $51.5-million player yet. But they think he will be one day.
Yeah, actually: Andrew McCutchen is a $51.5-million player. Right now. For this deal to work, all he has to do is stay reasonably healthy and keep playing baseball exactly the way he's been playing baseball.
According to FanGraphs, McCutchen's been worth roughly $55 million in his first three full seasons. That's $18 million per season. If the Pirates exercise their 2018 option for $14.5 million, they will wind up paying McCutchen roughly $9.3 million per season over seven seasons.
As for Upton and Bruce, McCutchen's been slightly less valuable than Upton and significantly more valuable than Bruce over the last three seasons ... and while he got essentially the same contract they got, he's actually coming cheaper because wins cost more now than when those other guys got their deals.
McCutchen's young, he's consistent, and (yes) by all accounts he's an outstanding person. Maybe that last bit does matter, but a lot of non-outstanding young hitters have retained or improved their value through their 20s and early 30s. We have a long, long history of baseball players doing exactly that, outstanding persons or not.
Of course, baseball players don't always do what we expect them to do. But hitters rarely suffer career-threatening injuries, and they rarely stop hitting until their middle or late 30s. Yes, there's a chance that McCutchen's contract will blow up in the Pirates' collective face. But there's a better chance that it'll look even better in four or five years than it looks now.
And right now it looks pretty damned good.